New Criminal Laws for 2021 – Seven that Really Matter
Each year, there are at least twenty new criminal laws that become effective on January 1 of the new year. Each year, there are some that will effect the everyday events in a criminal courtroom and this year, there are several that meet this standard. They are:
- Misdemeanor Judicial Diversion - Assembly Bill 3234. This bill provides for a misdemeanor judicial diversion program for up to two years for most misdemeanors (Penal Code §§ 1001.95 – 1001.97). Exceptions include domestic violence (Penal Code §§ 273.5 and 243(e)(1)), stalking (Penal Code § 646.9) and any misdemeanor sex offense requiring registration under Penal Code § 290. DUI is not a listed exception. Court diversion may last up to two years. The bill also lowered the earliest age one could be eligible for Elderly Parole to 50 years of age and decreased the minimum sentence served length to 20 years.
- Shorter Probation for Misdemeanors and Felonies - Assembly Bill 1950. This bill limits the term of probation for a misdemeanor to one year and two years for a felony, with lots of exceptions, most notably for domestic violence, DUI and strikes (listed at Penal Code §§ 1192.7(c) and 667(b)). The bill also excludes white collar crimes where the loss of value exceeds $25,000, child abuse, violations of a protective order, witness intimidation (Penal Code § 136.1), and assault when not a strike (Penal Code § 245(a)(4))). The law is not retroactive to reduce probation periods for offenses wherein sentencing took place more than 120 days earlier, but would be applicable to a case wherein a plea was entered, but sentencing has not occurred or took place less than 120 days ago if a modification of probation is sought within 120 days.
- Fire Camp Participant Expungement - Assembly Bill 2147. This bill allowed a defendant who successfully participated in the California Conservation Camp Program fighting fires (“Fire Camp”) while in prison or in a county jail as part of a hand crew to petition for dismissal of his or her conviction under Penal Code § 1203.4b. This is intended to remove the prior conviction barrier otherwise traditionally preventing those with felony convictions or even misdemeanor convictions from becoming a licensed EMT so that the person could continue working as a firefighter with the skills learned while in custody.
- Phone Calls from Prison and to Prisoners - Assembly Bill 3043. This bill adds section 5058.7 to the Penal Code, requiring the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to approve an attorney’s request to make a confidential call a client in a CDCR facility and to provide the inmate a call to an attorney of at least 30 minutes per month, per case, unless the attorney or the inmate requests less time.
- Drug Use or Possession by Sexual Assault Victims or Witnesses - Assembly Bill 1927. This bill makes testimony that a victim or witness in a felony sexual assault prosecution was using or in possession of drugs or alcohol at the time of the sexual assault inadmissible in a separate prosecution of that victim or witness. This can help encourage victims or witnesses to come to court by eliminating apprehension that they will be prosecuted for testifying about being under the influence or in possession of a drug and may help defendants, too, by allowing such testimony, which may decrease the victim’s or witness’ credibility.
- Intellectual Disability & Death Penalty Cases - Assembly Bill 2512. This bill allows a defendant in a death penalty case to apply for an order directing that a hearing be conducted to determine intellectual disability as part of a habeas corpus petition and revises the definition of intellectual disability.
- Search Warrant Rules Apply to GPS Tracking by Police – Assembly Bill 904. This bill provides that if law enforcement (i.e., probation or parole) utilizes software to track a person’s movements, whether in conjunction with a third party or by interacting directly with a person’s electronic device, that the same provisions relating to search warrants apply to allowing such tracking. We see this bill as affecting sex offenders, stalkers and domestic violence / elder abuse defendants most in the future.
For more information about some of the laws or issues discussed in the above article, please click on the following articles: